Take THAT, Creatures!

Some of you may recall my excitement at my first strawberry flower because I wanted the thing to turn into a berry, to which Andrew commented, “not if the birds eat it first!”. It started with a simple challenge and, as usual, escalated.

Those Woodland Creatures think they’re so clever, what with their scampering and their tiny statures and rodent teeth and beaks. Well.

I WILL NOT BE OUTSMARTED BY WOODLAND CREATURES!!

(I may have gone a bit overboard).

Behold the BERRY HUT!

To my true cheapo standard, I scavenged the bits for it from people’s boulevards on garbage day. One person’s neighbour eyed me suspiciously from his front porch as I scuttled off with a half-disintegrated shelving unit, but if he could see it now as part of the BERRY HUT, he’d be begging me for a delicious berry . And I might even give him one just to prove that I was the right one all along.

This thing has kept all sorts of creatures off of my snacks. Gabe and I got to try the first ripe strawberries today and they were like sweet little candies.

NO REGRETS!

This berry’s only crime was being too delicious

#5: PLANTING OUT

I have not posted lately, because we finally got to move in and hence I was getting my toil on in a big way. But before I blow your mind with how much toiling went on, let me first remind you all of the barren wasteland I started with:

Pre-toil

Now check it out, after much manual labour and justified carb-eating in-between:

Post-toil

I am so pleased with it. Apparently, so are all of the local woodland creatures. It appears as though the raccoons from my old place sent them the memo that I was moving, and they all decided to host the annual Chew Convention in our backyard. But that’s a topic for another post.

Fortunately, my preference for a natural aesthetic goes well with my cheapo ways. Almost everything you see here was salvaged, repurposed, borrowed, bought used, transplanted from friends, grown from seed, or made by hand. I feel proud about that.

Now, just so you all can fully appreciate it, here is the yard minus the big chump and a bunch of words:

Behold the cheapo beauty

I would like to say THANK YOU to the much-loved Paul for the help this weekend, to mum and Andrew for carting over their wood chippings for mulch, and to my partner Gabe for his contribution to the whole affair (as pictured below):

Gabe’s Grunt Work

… OK, OK- in all fairness, Gabe painted almost the entirety of the inside of the house so that we no longer have to look at walls that are School Bus Yellow, Pumpkin Orange, Diarrhea Brown and Whatever  Shade of Purple This Is:

Thank you to Gabe for painting the house instead of gardening so that this-coloured walls no longer put me into a state of rage

#4: DIGGING THE BEDS

We don’t move in until June 1, but the present tenants have been nice enough to let me start the garden early. My lovely friend Spatch dug it up for me last weekend because I was too lazy   too feeble  out of town. So, for your viewing pleasure, here’s 4 hours of grunt labour condensed into a few measly seconds for you to watch from the comfort of your couch.

Now: I am no expert on how this was done, especially since I was getting drunk on a pontoon boat away when Spatch dug the bed, but I think he used a basic double-digging technique as described here. In his freaking awesome book The Self-Sufficient Life And How To Live ItJohn Seymour calls it the Deep Bed technique and describes it as “a highly intensive and effective method of producing vegetables in a small space- especially if you are looking for drought resistance and vigorous growth”I didn’t add the compost to enrich the soil- and that’s skipping a crucial step- but I simply didn’t get my act together on time. Next year.

Thanks, Spatch! And thanks to Gabe for using his nerd skills and fancy camera to make the video.

#3: PLANNING THE PLOT

I feel like it would be easier and take less time to solve world hunger!

Things to Consider (to name a few):

  • SOIL– good earth is so important for a successful yield. You can do soil tests and buy fancy products, but I have neither the time nor the resources this year so I’m just going to work with what I have.
  • SUNLIGHT- most plants need 6-8 hours of sunlight/day. Also, taller things should be planted on the north side so they don’t overshadow your little guys.
  •  SLOPE- flat is best to avoid water runoff.
  • ACCESS- close to your kitchen (so you will use it) and especially to your water supply- less time lugging water around means more time loafing. Also, I want to plant my beds so I can reach everything without stepping into the garden (i.e. 3 feet wide). That’s better for the soil, the plants, and my pants.
  • SHELTER– from the wind. I am too overwhelmed to tackle this right now. I can’t even build a Kinder Surprise toy on my own. My yard has some natural barriers (shrubs, slopes and house structures) that will hopefully do this for me.
  • WHAT, WHERE , HOW MUCH, and WHEN to PLANT: almost impossible to plan for chumps like me without experience- this is why I’m glad I stopped by the great blog Grow Your Groceries, which brought a very helpful (and FREE!) website to my attention:

Smart Gardener <– click to try it yourself!

I’ll walk you through how it was helpful for me:

You tell it where you are (for climate), your garden’s orientation (for sunlight), the size and layout of your beds, and how many people live in your household (for quantity calculation).

Then it tells you your growing season and the total square footage you have to work with

Then you select your growing season and it provides a great list of vegetable options for your area at that time. You can choose from the list (even order the seeds by mail, if you wish) and add in anything else you want to try. It tells you how many plants you’ll need for your household, how much space they’ll take up, and provides a calendar of care from sowing to chewing. Unbelievable.

Then it suggests how you can best maximize your garden plots given the vegetables you’ve chosen. It combines crop rotation and orientation to the sun. You can make changes as you like. This is the one it made for me. I am still not sure about it- have some lunch dates with friends of mine who know more about this kind of thing to review it. Any of you have any thoughts? I was hoping there might be some mention of companion planting but I didn’t see anything.

PS- What I’m growing (I think). This may look a little… “off” to some of you! Chances are, that is because I have no clue what I’m actually doing. Or I may be over/under-supplied. Or both:

… You think I’m nuts, don’t you? Nah, it’s cool. You can say it.

#2: WHEN YOUR SEEDLINGS GET TOO BIG

“FEED ME, SEYMOUR!”

If the space under your windowsill is starting to look like the prop room from Little Shop of Horrors but it’s too cold out to put your indoor seedlings into the garden, it’s time to transfer your seedlings to larger pots. You will know it’s time because the seedlings start to get too big for their cells and/or the roots start to get “leggy” (you will see them straggling out of the bottom of the cell). If you have a garden plot ready and want to put them there instead, you will want a greenhouse-like structure to put over them for protection from frost (generally until after May 24 weekend)- this is discussed starting at step 3.

1. Fill a large container (make sure it has a hole in the bottom for drainage!) with soil, leaving a little cell-sized hole that your seedling will go into.

FOR YOU CHEAPOS: You can buy fancy soil in bags, or just dig up some soil from your garden. It will likely be far from ideal and may increase your chance of pests/problems later, but it’s free. For the container, many garden centres have free plastic ones kicking around, or you can use old ice cream, etc tubs (be sure to cut a small coin-sized hole in the bottom for drainage).

2. Very gently loosen the seedling from the cell (do not lift it out by its stem as it may break the sprout), bringing as much of the dirt with it as you can. Make sure the soil in your cell is not too dry before you do this. Place it in the hole you left in the larger container and gently press some soil in around the base.

3. The bigger containers will likely take up too much room to be kept in your home. At this point, they can go outside but will need a cold frame, which is a mini greenhouse structure that goes around them. You need to be able to prop it open somehow during the day for ventilation, but keep it closed at night to protect the plants from cold. Picture a bottomless box with a hinged glass lid.

FOR YOU CHEAPOS: After looking up “how to make a cold frame” and deciding that I am too much of a chump to accomplish such a feat, and fruitless kijiji searches to find an affordable used cold frame, I finally found the perfect solution. I bought a used 36-gallon lizard tank on kijiji for peanuts. I place it upside down over my outdoor plants. During the day, I prop it up for ventilation or remove it altogether to avoid overheating. (You have to be very careful handling it, as a reptile tank is clearly not designed for this purpose. My partner Gabe did not heed this advice and it broke. But I MacGyvered it and now it’s back and better than ever.)

#1: STARTING FROM SEED

Where I live, people generally don’t plant new things outside until after May 24 weekend because otherwise you risk exposing your newbie plants to killer frost. But you can start growing inside earlier if you have a window with some decent sunlight. If you’re neurotic like me, watching your seeds grow indoors pretty much constantly is embarrassingly fulfilling. And it’s so easy to do.

1. Get some seed packets. I am also growing potatoes, onions, asparagus, rhubarb and garlic but generally those aren’t started from seeds, so I’ll write more on that some other time.

2. Get a seed cell tray- your mini greenhouse. It has a tray with rows of removable little pots in it and a clear plastic lid.

Cheaps Ahoy!

FOR ALL YOU CHEAPOS: cut a tray out of a milk carton on its side, and use toilet paper rolls for the little pots. Your plants can survive without the fancy clear lid.

3. Fill the cells with soil, which you can buy in packages.

FOR ALL YOU CHEAPOS: just dig out some soil from your yard. Not the fancy way, and it may result in future annoyances, but it works.

4. Stick a seed or two in each cell. Check the seed packet for how deep into the soil you should push it. Make sure you label which seeds are where, because it’s near impossible to differentiate them when they first come up.

FOR ALL YOU CHEAPOS: I write on plastic knives with permanent marker for my seed labels. You will have to lay them flat along the edge of the seedlings at first because the lid won’t go on if they’re sticking straight into the soil.

5. Water. Put the lid on. Place the tray by a sunny window. Leave the lid on until the seedlings get too big or the soil starts to dry out (so you can add water).

It’s like watching paint dry, but even better

There you have it. Plenty of neurotic obsessing can be enjoyed before planting season even starts. And I promise you, when those seeds pop up you will be so proud and you will turn into a Psycho Stage Mom of plants. There is even more excitement from here- see my next post about when your seedlings get too big.